New energy proposals from Scottish Conservatives temper SNP’s lofty Renewable Energy ambitions
The Scottish Conservatives recently introduced a new environmental report focusing on the renewable energy ambitions of the governing Scottish National Party (SNP). The report comes amidst allegations that the SNP approved an inordinate amount of wind farms—500 to be built or granted planning permission in the Scottish Borders this year alone—often against the behest of local authorities.
The report, announced by Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP, highlights Tories’ anxiety not only about reaching the target of 1,000 wind farms in the Borders much sooner than expected but also for the Scottish Government’s larger goal of sourcing “the equivalent of all Scotland’s electricity from renewable sources by the end of the decade”.
Lead by First Minister Alex Salmond, the SNP is steering Scotland towards an ambitious future as a global leader in renewable energy and sustainable technology, hoping to capitalize on Scotland’s ample natural resources. Salmond believes a “greener Scotland” will entice voters in the 2014 referendum on independence as part of the SNP’s platform pushing for Scotland’s separation from the UK.
According to a Freedom of Information Act filed by the Scottish Tories and reported in The Telegraph, Salmond’s emphasis on wind energy has inundated local authorities in Scotland with an unprecedented number of wind farm applications. An academic survey, which applauded Salmond’s support for renewable energy, The Telegraph also reported, found: “More than six out of 10 applications for onshore wind farms are now approved and their installed capacity is almost the same as all the turbines in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
The worry, which Tories express, is such a strong development comes at the expense of diversity in energy sourcing with many areas—in the Borders especially—already reaching their “saturation point” for wind farms.
The new report from the Conservatives recommends “the exploration of shale gas and coal bed methane” and “[more] support for wave, tidal, hydro and Carbon Capture Storage schemes.”
Following claims that the SNP pressures groups to approve of new applications—frequently overriding local councils for larger developments—the report suggests councils “be given the power to impose a one year moratorium on new wind turbine developments in Scotland.” It also calls for a “zoning exercise” to help guarantee wind farms do not impose health, ascetic, or environmental damages being placed closer than legally permitted.
There have been attempts to standardize the process of where and how many turbines are constructed. The Renewables Obligation, a UK-wide private sector approach, “led to a very large number of proposals and… resulted in a number of disputes over planning decisions.” Partly in response, The National Planning Framework which is part of the Scotland Act 2006, initiated “a strategy for Scotland’s spatial development,” calling for “a statement of what the Scottish Ministers consider to be priorities for that development.”
While the SNP has used its majority in Scottish Parliament to raise the Government’s renewables target, planning increases for wind farms and other renewable energy sources, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in Westminster has gone a different route, recently abandoning its “dash-for-gas” and focusing on fossil fuels.
As the two governments’ platforms diverge on energy policy, the only real chance to go “green” in Scotland—central to the SNP’s manifesto—may increasingly be a Yes vote in 2014. Currently, most energy policy implantation is de-facto devolved to Holyrood but essential subsidies for renewable energy are paid by Westminster from UK-wide revenue. Scotland accounts for 75 per cent of the UK’s installed energy generating capacity, says Mainstream Renewable Power, a company promoting the proposed Neart na Gaoithe Offshore Wind Farm along the Fife Coast.
But according to a report by Scottish Natural Heritage, a government advisory group which reviews wind-farm applications for effects on land conservation and promoting sustainability, the planned closer of nuclear and coal-fired plants in Scotland means “42 per cent of [Scotland’s] generating capacity will be out of use by 2023”.
Many argue that a variety of power sources is still needed if Scotland wishes to go “green” and promote clean energy. Wind power “cannot supply baseload or demand-tracking generation,” and “is therefore never likely to provide more than about 20 per cent of total energy supply,” Professor Paul L Younger of Glasgow University wrote in The Herald.
Ruth Davidson MSP, the Tory leader who announced in a new report, recently called on her peers to focus on putting Scotland first, afraid that her party is losing relevance north of the border. This plan may help but calls for a referendum in 2017 on the UK remaining in the European Union (EU) from David Cameron might incline Scots to take a chance on Scottish independence, considering the SNP’s intention to seek continued membership for Scotland as an independent state. According to the Scottish Natural Heritage group, “Scotland is considered to have the best wind resource (onshore and offshore) in Europe;” additionally, the Scottish Government claims Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s tidal-energy potential.Tagged in: energy policy, Scottish Conservatives, Scottish National Party, wind farms
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